By Yeng Thao (Tsaav Zeej Thoj)
LEC, don’t worry, because I am with you. Don’t’ be afraid, because I am your God. I will make you strong and will help you; I will support you with my right hand that saves you…I am the LORD your God, who holds your right hand, and I tell you, “Don’t be afraid, I will help you.” Isaiah 41:10-13. This is the message that resonated throughout the 40 year celebration among all LEC members who came to attend and participate in the glorification of God’s grace.
What is the meaning behind the number 40 in the bible? The number 40 is used mostly in the bible as deemed by God to give us trials, tribulations, and redemption of our faith. The number 40, as you can see, is mentioned numerous times in the bible. Here are some of the most important events shaping our faith as a result of the number 40.
Noah’s Ark. Noah, the only human being God found to be worthy of his grace was ordered to build an Ark to house his family and to protect one pair of living creature on earth. We read in Genesis chapter seven. 1The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you to be righteous in this generation. 2Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”
Moses on the mountain: In exodus 24:18, God commands Moses to spend forty days and forty nights with him on the mountain to discuss the laws that would govern the Israelites. Moses returns to find that his people had gone back to worshipping idols. God is furious and intends to destroy everyone, but Moses pleads to God to save those who are righteous. All who sided with Moses were saved from the fiery pits of hell. Those who did not want to change and obey God’s law were perished.
Forty days exploration of the land of Canaan by the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel. When the forty days had passed, the twelve leaders came back with the following reports: Numbers 13:27 “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey; 28But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak(The Anakins were a formidable race of giants, warlike people who lived and occupied the promised land of Canaan). 29The Amalekites (descendants of Esau) live in the Negev, the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan.” The Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, and Jebusites were all descendants of Noah. The report stated that the inhabitants in Canaan were stronger, bigger, and the land devours outsiders and assimilates them. This report obviously painted a bleak picture of hopelessness for the Israelites who have traveled all the way from Egypt to only face a wall that cannot be breached. But Caleb and Joshua reminded the Israelites that it is God’s will and intention that the land of Canaan belongs to them. This command of God alone should give Israelites hope that they can conquer the land even though the obstacle was insurmountable. To punish the Israelites for their unfaithfulness and contempt towards God, Hepromised that all men twenty years and older will not enter the promise land that He has prepared for them. This is a punishment to those who would question God’s command. Only Caleb and Joshua who scouted the land of Canaan and believed in God will see it.
Forty stripes of punishment. Deuteronomy 25:3 “but the judges must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your own eyes.” If any Israelite is to be convicted of a wrong doing, they can be lashed forty times.
Jonah warns the inhabitants of Nineveh to repent. Due to the economic rise of Nineveh and its prosperity, the inhabitants became wicked in their ways even though they believed in God. To warn the Ninevans God sends Jonah to let them know their city will be in ruins in 40 days if they don’t repent. In Jonah 3:4 “Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown. 5The Ninevites believed God and when they heard this they all put on the sackcloth and repented even the King of Nineveh. Its citizens and city was saved from God’s wrath.
Jesus is tested in the wilderness after he fasted for Forty Days and Forty Nights. We read in Mathew 4:1 1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2After fasting for Forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The devil first tempts Jesus by telling him to turn stone into bread to prove that he is the son of God, second he tempts Jesus to jump from the highest point in the temple, third, he tempts Jesus by offering him power over all the kingdoms of the earth. After Jesus refused the devils temptations, he left Jesus alone.
Jesus roams the earth for forty days and forty nights after his resurrection. Jesus appears to numerous people as proof that he is alive and has risen from the dead. He instructs his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, because God was going to bestow unto them the Holy Spirit. Jesus roams the earth to show others that he was still alive and that if they have faith in him, they can also rise from the dead and be with him in heaven.
Why is the number 40 significant for the Lao Evangelical Church? We want to thank the Lord our God for blessing us with abundance of opportunities in a strange new world. As our faith has not wavered for forty years, we celebrate LEC faith, life, member cultures, dedicated service to God, and the torch of leadership that will carry us for the next forty years to come under God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
LEC has been blessed to have served the Lord for forty years. We will continue to do so. Our journey is not so different from the Israelites who ventured bravely into the land of Canaan. For forty years, we have lived here in this land of dreams. We put our lives and our faith in God that he will provide for us. LEC’s vision for its members is to live and glorify God. To be more precise, we are “To Love God and others wholeheartedly every moment of our lives.” The last forty years have not been without trials, tribulations, and tested faith to God and to each other. Through it all, the remaining members have become humble and have formed a circle of love that cannot be matched by other Christians. LEC is still here celebrating God’s love. The foundation that has been built by Reverend Mouachou Mouanoutoua in the U.S. with deep faithful roots planted by Reverend Salee in Laos have not perished but flourished in the hearts and minds of its descendants. Reverend Mouachou Mouanoutou’s leadership has become a daily reminder to all members that all things are possible through God. An independent LEC is possible through God’s love and grace. Even though the members are few, the spiritual faith is strong or even stronger than any other Christian denomination. The trials and tribulations that LEC members have endured for the past forty years has increased their spiritual faith and made the foundation stronger as evident in this celebration remembering those who have toiled, labored, and suffered to bring us here to the land of dreams (United States of America). Our parent’s hard work and undying love of God lives on in us. We are remembering them by honoring them with this celebration. Our hunger for God’s attention and love continues to grow.
The celebration started off with cherish Hlichia Lo and Gaocha Mouanoutoua singing the National Anthem “Star Spangled Banner”. Next was a welcoming speech in Laos, Hmong, and English by LEC Headquarter President Reverend Kevin Mouanoutoua. To lead us off in the celebration was the harmonizing music from the Santa Ana Youth worship band. Then we listened to dedication songs of our enduring 40 years of faith by special guest singers Pastor Paul Chang and Nam K.L. Cher Zong Yang. While the songs played and the audience cheered, brother Nha Long Xiong was busy monitoring the audio controls and coordinating the smooth transition of song choices of our guests from one track to another. The worship band and special guests were followed by a special recollection of significant events in the bible with reference and meanings to the number 40 and how it relates to LEC by Reverend Mouachou Mouanoutoua.
Reverend Mouachou, as pointed out by Za Gao Yang of Banning, has a calming and angelic voice. When he speaks, his calm voice carries the message across the audience and into our hearts. He pointed out that the number 40 was significant, because it is a period of trial that God uses to test our faith. LEC has been tested for the last forty years. Like any other congregation, there would not be spiritual growth without dissidents and disagreements. But through it all, if we put God first and seek his advice, we will be alright.
Reverend Mouachou takes us back in time to Laos to reveal how LEC was established with the help of Reverend Salee and the need by the Hmong Christian community for self-government. He takes us on a trek from the hills of Laos to the jungles, across the Mekong River, into the refugee camps in Thailand, and finally settling down in Santa Ana, California. As he describes it, LEC was established in Laos for the Hmong people so that they can govern themselves religiously with the blessing of the Lao government at the time. After it was established, LEC was able to offer education scholarships to children of LEC members to pursue their quest for a higher education. This educational opportunity helped propel the Hmong community from hill tribal life to 20th century life. After establishing LEC, Laos became entangled in a civil war amongst itself. LEC members fled the country into neighboring Thailand to escape the war. Most were able to come to the United States as refugees to start a new life. Once in the United States, LEC leaders assembled and looked for a way to govern themselves. The first Lao Evangelical Church was established in Santa Ana with other congregations to follow. As of today, LEC currently has twelve congregations reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Israel or the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. All twelve congregations were well represented at the 40 year celebration. Here are the current congregations of LEC. We have LEC Utah, LEC Las Vegas, LEC Banning, New Hope of Riverside, LEC Santa Ana, LEC Porterville, LEC Fresno, LEC Merced, LEC Modesto, First Hmong Lao Evangelical Church of Stockton, New Life Lao Evangelical Church of Sacramento, and LEC Marysville.
As the celebration carried on, there were hard working men and women behind the scenes from Santa Ana church preparing food, drinks, and dessert for our event. Their hard work and generous contribution made the celebration possible. Santa Ana shouldered the bulk of the responsibility by cooking, decorating, organizing, greeting guests, setting up chairs, tables, and ensuring our safety around the church. Coordinating all the activities between the youth, men department, and women department was Santa Ana church local president Nou Song Thao and 40 year committee liaison Nha Long Xiong. Their tireless efforts and persevering attitude is what makes LEC Santa Ana a special congregation.
Beyond the LEC history lesson, the audience was treated to performances by individuals and other local LEC churches that prepared and practiced their songs to come and sing in praise of the Lord and his blessings over the last 40 years.
First up was Julie Vang of First Hmong Lao Evangelical Church of Stockton. Dressed in Hmong traditional clothing, her song was inspiring and it showed that the youth of today still respect the cultures and customs of their parents. Second to sing was The First Hmong Evangelical Church of Stockton. Next was Lao Evangelical Church of Merced followed by an emotional and captivating performance by K.L. Neng Chue Mouanoutoua of Lao Evangelical Church of Fresno. His performance stands out at the celebration. His vocal performance was amazing and his lyrics captured the struggles and triumphant that LEC endured since 1975. In addition the music arrangement was perfect for the scene and it moved the audience. Unfortunately LEC Porterville had to follow the breath taking performance of K.L Neng Chue Mouanoutoua. Porterville almost forgot the lyrics to their song, because K.L. Neng Chue’s song was still resonating in their minds. To round up the first portion of songs was Hmong New Life Lao Evangelical church of Sacramento. Special thanks to LEC Utah for traveling twelve hours to join the celebration and sing a song. This is a testament to the love and fellowship that we have with all our other local churches. Even though our numbers may be few, but our quality of love for God is comparable with other mega churches. And lastly we hear from LEC Banning, a local church with promising young members and leaders in K.L. Za Gao Yang who have been coached to love God by Reverend Se Yang all other elder brothers and sisters.
While the audience enjoyed themselves listening to all the special songs, Pastor Paul Chang and Dr. Kongmeng Mouanoutoua were busy preparing the grounds for LEC’s time capsule and tree planting. The tree planting was to honor the love and sacrifice of our founder and Good Shepherd Reverend Mouachou Mouanoutoua. The celebration committee wanted to honor Reverend Mouachou for his contributions to LEC and his faithful service to God. He has been the umbrella that shields us from evil. He gives us shade and comfort when we struggle in life. The tree will represent his love and his carefree attitude and calming tone of voice. He models his life after Jesus Christ. His lesson is for us to live our lives inside the footprints of Jesus and not outside. The time capsule was for our descendants to open and see the many gifts that we have left for them to open in the next forty years to come. Precious gifts such as memories, artifacts, movies, stories, and fellowship activities will be stored. These will tell the stories of our faith that will live on in future LEC generations. The twelve local churches will be remembered forty years from Sept 5, 2015 when the time capsule is opened. Knowing that forty years is a long time and a new generation will rise up and carry the torch for LEC. It is also for our brothers and sisters to remember the struggles and good times that we have had and the blessing that has been given to us by God.
The time capsule ceremony opened with a prayer from LEC Head Quarter President Kevin Mouanoutoua. Followed by the ribbon cutting and letting go of balloons into the air. All the local church presidents were the first ones to pitch dirt onto the time capsule and tree. The ceremony continued as all LEC members who wished to pitch dirt onto the time capsule and tree were welcomed to do so. While this was going on, all members were treated to a delicious lunch meal prepared by LEC Santa Ana.
Back in the canopy tent, LEC Youth of Sacramento was busy prepping, tuning, and singing praise worship songs to entertain during lunch time. As lunch draws to a close, Nam K.L. Tub Vue encouraged all members to reconvene for the afternoon session. Reverend Se Yang prayed and asked for God’s grace to start off the afternoon session. LEC Youth Sacramento continued to play. They are a very talented youth group led by drummer Hai Vue. His dedication, support, and leadership is evident in the ever improving sounds of LEC Youth Sacramento. Next up to sing was LEC Marysville. Like Utah, Las Vegas, and Porterville, they are a small congregation, but their dedication for God and faith in him are unparalleled. Their performance was followed by the scintillating, fast paced, rhyming hip hop Christian song cover “Tell the World” by Winston Thao and Gabby Thao from LEC Porterville. Next was LEC Fresno, led by local president Los Mouanoutoua. They packed the stage to give praise to the Lord for his blessings. After Fresno was LEC Las Vegas. Even in the most sinful places on earth, LEC has members who are a bright shining light for all others to see when they are lost. Led by local president Ying Cha and Pastor Chou Lee, the congregation has been around for over 30 years serving the Lord. Again LEC is not concerned with quantity but quality and loyalty to God. Rounding up this group of special songs was LEC Modesto. As always we are treated to a surprise performance by Modesto. Their choice of choreography and singing style wakes up the audience and puts a smile on everyone’s face.
Next on the agenda was California Superior Court Judge Paul Lo. He was asked to give a presentation on the future of LEC in the next forty years. His message for the next forty years was simple, “Don’t wait for a leader to guide us for the next forty years, rather we should put our faith in God and pray consistently and passionately and God will find a leader for us. If we are ready and willing to follow God, then he will lead us.” The message was simple, but the meaning and essence of the presentation was motivating, inspiring, and uplifting. As our leaders retire, many LEC members are uneasy about the direction and absence of leadership that will guide us forward towards the next forty years.
Judge Paul Lo’s message takes us back to the days of poverty that we have all experienced in Laos. He talks about his own family struggles and how they were able to overcome obstacles to make it to the United States. As he stated, “Our parents didn’t even know how to turn the light switch on or off.” Hmong people as a nationality faced insurmountable odds to be here in the United States. Being here in the United States was a blessing from God. It is here that poor families with no educational background have the opportunity to send their kids to school. This is the blessing from God that Judge Paul talks about as he himself is a son of a farmer. But through motivation, the guidance of the church, limitless educational opportunities, and faith in God that one day we will be better, he made it to the big stage for all LEC members and Hmong people as a nationality. He was selected from a pool of applicants to become a California Superior Court Judge. Even though he is a Superior Court Judge, Judge Paul remains humble and gives credit to his parents, his family, his church, his faith, and his LEC brothers and sisters.“We came here at the most opportune time in history”, said Judge Paul. We did not have to face racism, depression, hard labor, or segregation. This is the blessing that God has given to us as a nationality without a home country. Why worry about what LEC will be like in the next forty years. We should concentrate on loving each other, promoting faith within our own local churches, and fellowship with each other. The bottom line is be prepared for the kingdom of God and stop stressing over the status of LEC in the next forty years. If we prepare ourselves and use GOD as our target and our objective, there will always be an LEC.
The underlying message that Judge Paul was laying down for all LEC members to understand is that we should not wait for someone to lead us. We should continue to put our faith in God, we should continue to do God’s work, we should continue to outreach and do missionary work by spreading the word of God, and we should fellowship with each other to strengthen our bond so that we will be ready to follow once God answers are prayers and leads us into the future. The Israelites were afraid that after Moses passed away, there would be no one capable of leading them into the land of Canaan. Once again, they lost faith in God. But yet God chose another leader in Joshua. He bestowed upon Joshua the Holy Spirit. He gave Joshua courage to lead the Israelites. If God is with us, who can be against us? The Israelites worried because they lacked faith, LEC is lacking faith right now by worrying. Don’t lose faith in God. If we lose faith in God, then we lose faith in ourselves.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”. (Ephesians 1:3) Lord as we have endured, been tested, been divided, and tempted by our own selfish earthly material needs; we thank you for carrying us when we were weak and sick, celebrating with us when we are jubilant, encouraging us when our faith dwindled, and most importantly, believing in us that we can survive your forty years of trials and testing to become stronger and more faithful Christians. God we ask that you bless LEC for another forty years to come. We are not jealous nor do we envy other denominations who boast membership in the thousands, but we are jealous of your Love and kindness. We seek only to be with you in paradise. We ask that LEC will grow in faith, will become more humble, have the courage to forgive those who will do us harm, keep your commandments, spread your message of salvation, and love one another whole heartedly without reservations or prejudice.